Three Icons of the Delta: The River, The Plantation, and The Juke.
|The Mississippi River as it flows through the Delta. Photo by Alisa Kirk, February 2002.|
At 8:00 AM on April 21, 1927, the Mississippi River
crevassed its levee at Mound Landing, Mississippi. The flood that resulted made
an inland sea more than 125 miles across and 150 miles long, and displaced
hundreds of thousands of people. The River can be a destroyer.
Fifteen thousand years ago, when global sea levels were 300
feet lower than today, the Mississippi River gouged a deep valley in the lower
Gulf Coast plain. As the glaciers covering North America melted, The River
carried sediments from almost half of the continent through this valley,
depositing a layer of pure alluvial soils that are "endlessly deep, dark
and sweet, (David, Cohn, 1948. Where
I was Born and Raised)" and the finest agricultural land in the World.
The River can be a creator.
"With us, when you speak of "the river," though there be many, you mean always the same one, the great river, the shifting, unappeasable god of the country, feared and loved, the Mississippi." William Alexander Percy, 1941, Lanterns on the Levee.
|Dockery Farms is the quintessential delta plantation. It was still wilderness in 1895 when Will Dockery started farming near Ruleville and Cleveland, Mississippi. As the canebreaks and forests were cleared, and crops planted, Dockery grew, eventually supporting over 2,000 workers. From this historic seed house, one could see the Dockery railroad terminal, which had its own full time ticket agent. At one time, Dockery paid its workers in its own coins, had its own doctor, well stocked commissary, and supported two churches.|
At one time, Charlie Patton, Son House, and Willie Brown, all extremely important Blues originators, lived at Dockery. Dockery Farms is the birthplace of the Delta blues.
and the Juke:
|Po' Monkey's Lounge, in Merigold, Mississippi, is one of the last
surviving rural jukes. The word Juke is of West African origin,
and means "wicked." Jukes like this one have always been
places where farm workers could relax, drink beer, and listen to
music. The Blues evolved in Jukes. Monkey's is operated by
Mr. William Seeberry, and is only open now on Thursday nights.
For more about Po' Monkey's, check out the article in Southern Spaces at
The River created the Delta and suited it to agriculture. Plantations began as lumbering operations and moved into farming as soon as the land was cleared. Cotton and corn required huge work forces and drew thousands of African Americans, Southern Europeans, Russian Jews, Italians, Lebanese, and Chinese to the region. All ethnicities contributed to the Delta, and the work songs of Black field laborers, molded through the Jukes on every plantation, gave rise to The Blues.
Robert Johnson, Sonny Boy Williamson, Elmore James, and
Howlin’ Wolf, all played in Jukes in the countryside and towns
immediately surrounding Delta State University.
The Blues transformed American music.
It is a direct ancestor of virtually all popular American musical genres,
including its urban great-grandchild, Rap.
Its impact on Rock is undeniable. Led
Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, Warren Zevon, Fleetwood Mac, and The
Red Hot Chili Peppers have all covered songs of Robert Johnson alone, as have
Hank Williams Jr., The Cowboy Junkies, Kenny Rogers, and The Turtle Island
Three icons of the Delta: The River, The Plantation, and The Juke
return to the Delta Center website at www.blueshighway.org.